Confessions of a Surf Blog Commenter – by mike mantalos
It has been less than three years since I first discovered the medium of the surf blog. As another chapter ends, I find myself questioning how I have become so caught up in the anonymous momentum. Answers become bigger questions, and bigger questions find simpler answers.
For most of my adult life I surfed a consistent series of sand banks that attracted a similar demographic as I. More photogenic or popular surf spots bookended this stretch of dirty sand, but I enjoyed the relative anonymity that this deserted stretch of peaks offered. Utilitarian surf, but fit my busy lifestyle well and afforded me a daily surf without my one real enemy, crowds.
As the years went by, my “secret” became more visited. At first, a small cadre of friends discouraged new faces. Eventually, new faces became friends. We had a good run of selfishness and quite frankly, the new crew was pretty entertaining after the pall of our original exclusion lifted.
We gathered each morning randomly. Different characters, varied lifestyles. As comfort replaced “stink eye’ or worse, personalities were allowed to run free. Topics of discussion were as varied as our opinions and the comedy that ensued was infectious. Thin skins and fragile egos found no solace on our “hill”. Often, the discourse supplanted the desire to surf… guys were showing up for the social without their boards.
I never realized how dependent I had become on the comedy on that hill overlooking “our” peak.
Suffice to say, our narrative was becoming exponentially exaggerated. The foibles of life or worse, public displays of poor surfing were the catalysts to unregulated clowning and I thrived in that environment.
One day before I moved away, I shared a joint with a few of the boys on the hill following fun surf. Everyone sensed that my departure was an end to our brotherhood and I was flattered at the suggestion. Suggestions were volleyed about how we could write a script to capture a comedy that had taken us hostage willingly. None of us can write, so that suggestion was as futile, but the desire was genuine.
My new home was amazing. I was living a surf trip without packing or boarding a flight. Surfing alone in quality waves became a three- year period of my life that stands alone. I had money in the bank, nothing but time and ridiculous surf.
I so easily acquiesced back into my reclusive era and spent weeks on end communicating only to my socially starved wife.
The Army Corp of Engineers and a vacant Huey destroyed all that. The Corp dredged a local harbor and literally killed the best series of sand in America. I haven’t surfed the “Mariana’s” trench in 5 years and that horror was compounded by three successive years of surf drought.
I resumed a healthy travel itinerary, but eventually money became a consideration and the thought of rebuilding my career was no longer optional.
One day, an urgent online surf check led me to a link to Post Surf.
Wow. It was like I had found a new hill and this time, a hill that included pro surfing as a topic.
My old crew would argue over sports, art, life, women, politics, money… just about everything except pro surfing. No one else gave a rat’s ass about any tour. During one contest weekend for the OP Pro, I remember surveying the lineup informally for opinions about the contest just a short bike ride away. No one cared, the waves were way too good to bother with anything “pro”.
Now I am no groupie, but I am a consummate student of performance and watching those guys surf is my classroom. Post Surf became my study group.
Immediately I fell into the rhythm of sarcastic expression, an expression that had been in hibernation since my move. The author of Post Surf is a brilliant comedian who wrote with a unique freedom that had no umbilical cord to the surf industry. His message resonated and I no longer needed television or the surf periodicals that I had begun to despise for entertainment.
Truth be told, the surf magazines had always been a medium I had loathed. No one could write what needed to be said and I decided to test that premise. I was trashed and thoroughly humiliated each time I found access to one of the magazine editors. My perspective was dirt and sold nothing, thanks for coming, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.
In Post Surf, I found the conduit to express my admittedly non- commercial ideology framed in my unique brand of obtuse humor. Online friends and enemies blurred in a flurry of fun. Our host offered up the fresh kill and we piled on for a feed.
Eventually, his genius became his burden. Another genius replaced the first, the fun continued unabated. I suspect the popularity of both writers led to possible mainstream ambitions. Talent amongst the sea of homogenous writing surely had to find a broader audience and I hope they both find a medium ready for their change.
As Nug abandoned his asylum, Blasphemy Rottmouth ascended the throne. Unrivaled as a commenter, “Brew” authored his blog in much the same direction as his predecessors. But now, the head psychiatrist could follow his every muse that wasn’t corralled by any relation to surfing. The discourse thrived.
The mischief was infectious and organic. Through an online collection of anonymous comics, I had replaced a comedy that I had forgotten from the hill. It was odd to develop such familiarity amongst the participants, a fact that chafed the Post Surf author into seclusion (I suspect). Brew was the continuity to the madness and one could barely find a more hilarious respite. Once again, thin skins and fragile egos need not attend and it’s like our social order incubated just like any surf lineup would in the days before density’s ugly reality.
Although the surf industry at large bristles and condescends our movement as small, we have made our impact. Nick Carroll celebrated us as New Sarcastics…thank you Nick. Tim Baker wrote me an ugly email! I hope that we found common ground because we are essentially more similar than not. Brody Croyle defended his disaster of an ASP schedule to me in a personal email. Dave Mailman invited me to his wedding! Jamie O’Brien “tweeted” what an asshole I am!
Through Lewis’ New Sarcasm, I had a voice amongst a global surf community that had insulated itself like teflon. Clif Evers even published a story of mine, charitable soul that he is. Imagine that? After all these years, a magazine that appreciated an original thought without a sales hook.
Even more amazing, Peter Bowes stopped moderating me. Oh St Peter of Bowes, your church of literature and Clif’s flock of Pelicans will still feed my intellect with surf story. I’ll maintain decorum when commenting, all due respect indeed.
But the New Sarco movement was and is, anything but new. It’s been practiced on every beach, every era and every language known to the surf world. It just finally found a voice over an anonymous, invisible airway straight into my office and on my command. And I could never predict what would happen next. Beautiful.
Nick Carroll will claim victory. Our movement couldn’t maintain its momentum forever. But know this Nick, the larger surfing demographic remains voiceless and resistant to your sales campaigns. Silence should not be confused with failure. And a Pelican brief and St Peter provides your ilk with a template for genuine writing.
I confess, I have been a surf blogger. I sure will miss it, but now I may actually get something done, albeit in a world much less fun.